Clinical depression sucks and it’s only growing more common. Almost one in two people in the U.S. will suffer from depression or another mental health condition at some point and about one in 17 Americans actually has a serious mental illness right now.
Despite its rising rates, depression can be hard to wrap your brain around, especially if you’ve never had it. It’s not easily treated or cleared up by positive thinking, or yanking yourself up by your bootstraps, or shoving your feelings to the dark corners of the back of your mind. It’s so much deeper and more insidious than that. I once described depression this way:
“None of those external [good things you have going for you] truly register or resonate when you have depression. You can logically identify them as Good Things, and you know they are supposed to make you feel Good, but you can’t feel them, they can’t get in. It’s like your brain is wearing a full-body armor designed to keep only the good things out. Bad things … get ushered in instantly, like VIPs.”
People who don’t have depression don’t always know what to say that could possibly help to a friend or family member going through the all-encompassing yet simultaneously utterly numb sensation of your own brain turning against you. Here are a few things not to say (unless you want said friend or loved one to grow homicidal as well as miserable): Keep reading »
Here are two things I never expected to be told in the same breath: “You’re so skinny! This will look cute on you,” and “I’m pretty sure you’re lying about that time your dad molested you.”
Nine months ago, I confronted my father about sexually abusing me as a child. Since then, my communication with my family has been limited, and it caught me off-guard when, just two weeks ago, my aunt invited me to meet her for lunch. I impulsively agreed, and initially, we started on the right note. After a few minutes of polite pleasantries, she handed me a gift bag. Inside, I found a hand-me-down Ann Taylor blazer with the tags still on (“I love the pattern, but it just doesn’t fit me”) and a copy of Meredith Maran’s My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (“I learned so much from this book. It’s amazing how unreliable our memories are, don’t you think?”). Never before had I felt so flattered and insulted all at once. Keep reading »
I remember my first panic attack in more detail than I remember losing my virginity or the first time I drove a car by myself. (I guess vivid terror of suddenly not being able to breathe really ingrains itself into your psyche.) It was 1998 and I was watching the “Psycho” remake with my family’s French exchange student. During the infamous shower scene, my throat and lungs tightened inside me like a figure eight knot. I got up and paced around the movie theater, unable to control my body and wondering if I was having a heart attack. I’ve had panic attacks periodically since then, probably due to a combination of biology and circumstance. I’ve made an effort to lessen the conditions that they occur in and for the most part, I live a pretty calm life. My anxiety only spikes in extreme circumstances, such as the rare times I’ve gotten temporarily stuck in a subway underground (I’m claustrophobic).
After a couple of years without anxiety attacks in my everyday life, I’ve started having them again. The stress is related to old stuff resurfacing in my life and the anxiety is pretty much the same, too: my chest tightens, my heart beats too fast, I can’t breathe, and I feel like I’m having a heart attack. (Or, you know, what I assume a heart attack feels like.) I’m 30 now. Panic attacks are still shitty and frustrating, but all the experience I’ve had coaxing myself through them over the years actually does makes them less intense and quicker to get over.
These are my thoughts on what panic attacks are like, how to deal with them, and what I hope other people could understand if they’re trying to help:
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A cute guy walks up to you in a bar. He’s totally full of himself, but makes you laugh as he flexes his muscles while telling you he’s the best. This guy is a narcissist, right?
Not necessarily. Keep reading »
Motherhood. We all have a vision in mind of what it’s supposed to look like: warm, nurturing, saccharine, even beatific. Even the messier versions we allow — frazzled new parent anxiety, daylight zombies — still position the mother as with-it and in control. But what about the mothers who are anything but in control? What about the mothers who have an addiction in control of them?
Jowita Bydlowska is the author of a searing memoir, Drunk Mom, about her 11-month relapse into alcoholism after her son’s birth. A sober alcoholic, Bydlowska toasted her son’s birth with a glass of champagne. Then she began drinking regularly in the overwhelming new days of parenthood. At first her relapse was easy to hide, especially home alone on maternity leave with a newborn. But soon, the addiction metastasized into full-blown alcoholism once again, causing her to make dangerous decisions about her own and her baby’s safety and shrouding her relationship with her baby’s father in lies. When she finally makes it to rehab, the reader is relieved everyone is still alive.
Drunk Mom, which will be published in America on May 27th, is a discomforting read. It’s bare-naked honesty about addiction and families will make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those with idealized versions of what motherhood and womanhood “should” mean. It’s by far one of the best memoirs that I’ve ever read (and yes, I’m including Wild in that) both for it’s candor and bravery and for her narration. I understand addiction all the better with once-again-sober Jowita Bydlowska as the Charon to this Hades, our guide to the underworld.
I called Bydlowska in Canada where she lives with her now-five-year-old son.
Keep reading »
Leading up to last week’s pilot episode of “Black Box” on ABC, I’d seen a bunch of previews for the drama centered around Dr. Catherine Black, a talented neuroscientist harboring a secret diagnosis of her own. The series premiere aired right after “Grey’s Anatomy,” which I had been watching, so I decided to give it a whirl.
Big mistake. Keep reading »
The first person that Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, killed on December 14, 2012, was his own mother. She was murdered in her pajamas, lying her in bed, with four bullets to the head. The New Yorker has a profile of Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, in their most recent issue. Written by Andrew Solomon, it is the first time that Peter Lanza has ever spoken to the press about his son’s crimes. However, what stuck out to me most was not Peter unfathomable trauma or even Adam’s cornucopia of possible illnesses — depression? OCD? schizophrenia? insanity? — but instead Adam’s mother and Peter’s ex-wife, Nancy Lanza.
In the mid-2000s, a Yale psychiatry nurse specialist named Kathleen Koenig met with Adam after a time period in which he had started and then abruptly stopped using the antidepressant Lexapro, due to negative side effects. Throughout his teens, The New Yorker describes, Adam would frequently have “meltdowns” and cry alone, sometimes for hours at a time, behind a locked door. Nurse Koenig wrote that she implored Adam to take medication: “I told him he’s living in a box right now, and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.”
Reading that, it seems to me that Nancy Lanza was also living in a box that was only getting smaller if Adam didn’t get treatment. Keep reading »
At the beginning of our relationship, my now-wife “Charlotte” came over to my place for the first time and my room was immaculate. The pens and pencils on my desk were organized in straight lines. You could have bounced a quarter off my bed. Even the photos and posters on the wall were a study in flawless geometric alignment.
Charlotte just thought I was a “neat freak” at first, which, honestly, isn’t such a bad characteristic when you start seeing someone. But as time passed, she realized that my neat and clean ways went much deeper than just about being organized. After we moved in together, Charlotte started noticing some odd behaviors. For example, if something isn’t arranged just the way I like it on the desk, my breathing becomes heavy and I have a mini panic attack until the disorganized piles became organized piles. The first time she witnessed this, she thought I was overreacting and told me to “calm down — it’s just a little bit messy.” Yet my mind couldn’t think of anything else but the books that weren’t perfectly aligned, the pile of paper that wasn’t neatly stacked, the odd objects — a pen, a lighter, and some sunglasses — that were strewn about without any care about their placement in relationship to all of the other objects. I couldn’t continue on with my day without organizing that desk. So I sat down and organized it as Charlotte looked on with consternation.
She suddenly knew that she was in a relationship with someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Keep reading »
For the majority of my last relationship, my partner was in the throes of a slowly unwinding nervous breakdown. He moved to New York at the same time I did, and lived for a brief period in a state of almost too much togetherness, bound because we loved each other, but also because we didn’t know what else to do. There is a strange thing that happens when you first move to a new city. Stripped free of your usual comforts, you cling readily and fiercely to whatever is available. For us, it was one another, and that felt fine to me, but less so to him. With the stress of living in a new city and delving into a new relationship, his anxiety and depression blossomed beyond the average quarter-life crisis into something much more serious. Keep reading »